Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Aunt Het: A Brief Introduction

I discovered Aunt Het in July 2011 while searching newspapers online for old Red Sox stories and box scores. There she was, off to the side of the comic strips, a single panel tucked away near the crossword puzzle in the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald. It was the 1930s, but Het was speaking to my generation. And she wasn't holding back. At least not in the witty one-liners in her mind. The woman observes the imperfections of her neighbors and family members, and gives us the unedited scoop. No segment of the population is off limits, either. You probably know an Aunt Het, but you definitely know the people she's constantly ripping to shreds.

Ignore the text, and Aunt Het is a quaint old woman in a small town. And occasionally her words of wisdom are pretty innocent. But this was truly a study in humanity, and even in its tamer moments, the metaphors still ring true today. The writer, Robert Quillen (it was drawn by John H. Striebel), was a real quip-master, and quite an oddball. There isn't much online about him, and there's hardly anything written about Aunt Het. Even the "Aunt Het Festival" in Quillen's adopted hometown of Fountain Inn, South Carolina seems to have nothing to do with the cartoon. I can't even figure out the exact dates the strip ran. But the ones I'll be showing you here are from the late 30s, early 40s. Each post will have its own cartoon (from the Telegraph-Herald unless otherwise noted). I'll probably do a couple per week, but we'll see how it goes.

I'll start you off with this one, from February 24, 1941:

Well said, Het! Taken literally, this is brilliant. In a post-9/11 world, we're all suddenly suspects. You're not going to find a real terrorist judging a person solely by their outer appearance. People see a turban and run for the hills--meanwhile, you're more likely to be swindled by a white man in a nice suit than you are to be blown up by someone who happens to share the same faith as certain high-profile terrorists. But looking at the bigger picture, I get a "sometimes good guys don't wear white" vibe. Het ain't judgin' no books by no stinkin' covers.


  1. While writing this intro, I experienced an earthquake for the first time in my life, here in Providence, Rhode Island. Is this a good sign or a bad sign for this blog? I'm sure Het would have an opinion on this....

  2. Aunt Het would say, "People go all crazy when they feel a little tremor in the ground, but when the earth stops moving we should really start to worry."

  3. Do you think Aunt Het would Tweet?

  4. No, she'd say "I see a whole lotta tweetin' but not a lotta doin'."

  5. That's spot-on Het!

    We need a hurricane-related Het.

  6. I was gonna mention how the NY one was current-events related, with NYC evacuations and 10-yr 9/11-versary coming. But yeah, you'd think at least one of these from 1938 would have a 'cane theme. I'll keep looking.